Clarion football leans on returnees to quiet doubters
While the rest of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference members looked to other parts of the country for their season openers, Kutztown (0-0) and Clarion (0-0) kept things simple and arranged a conference crossover.
The Golden Eagles of the PSAC West will host PSAC East representative Kutztown at 1 p.m. Saturday to start their 2013 campaign. Clarion and Kutztown, which last played in 2009, shared a balanced rivalry during the past decade-plus — the Golden Bears are 6-6 against Clarion since 1998.
Both open this season hoping to defy doubters. Clarion, which finished 4-7 last season, placed seventh in the PSAC West preseason coaches' poll. Kutztown, which went 7-4 in 2012, took fourth in the PSAC East poll.
With 19 returning starters, Clarion considers experience a strength. The offense, which has four starters back on the line, will follow the leadership and playmaking ability of senior quarterback Ben Fiscus, a first-team All-PSAC West selection who completed 200 of 383 attempts for 2,480 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. And the defense, which retained 11 starters, will lean on backfield menace Julian Howsare, a junior defensive end, to make plays up front while junior linebacker Brian Palmiere piles up the tackles. Howsare had 14 sacks last season, and Palmiere finished with a team-high 89 tackles.
Kutztown will help determine how far Clarion's defense has come since last year. The Golden Bears averaged 44.5 points and 481.1 yards per game in 2012, and though they graduated star quarterback Kevin Morton, their leading rusher, Curtis Wortham, returned. Wortham averaged 84.73 yards per game as a junior.
Saturday's other games to watch
• Carnegie Mellon at Grove City, 1:30 p.m.
Carnegie Mellon will join Grove City in the Presidents' Athletic Conference next year. This matchup marks the final chapter of a 13-year exhibition series between the Tartans, who will leave the University Athletic Association, and the Wolverines.
• IUP at Southern Connecticut State, 1 p.m.
Ranked in the top 10 nationally by Lindy's and d2football.com, IUP begins the fall with considerable buzz. A trip to New Haven will set the tone for the season. The Crimson Hawks beat Southern Connecticut, 33-6, last season.
• California (Pa.) at Hillsdale (Mich.), 7 p.m.
Both teams received votes in the American Football Coaches Association's Division II preseason poll — Hillsdale earned 14, Cal two. In a similarly high-stakes nonconference clash last year, the Vulcans won 30-22.
• Frostburg State (Md.) at Geneva, 7 p.m.
A last-second, 56-53 loss for Geneva in this matchup last season became symbolic of the Golden Tornadoes' season. Geneva, which lost five games by 10 points or fewer, aspires to avoid the heartbreakers in 2013.
• A newly inducted member of the College Football Hall of Fame, former IUP coach Frank Cignetti Sr. soon will join another distinguished institution. The Division II Football Hall of Fame announced Thursday that Cignetti, IUP's coach from 1986 to 2005, will be one of three inductees in this year's class.
• Though it didn't move the team closer to a Northeast Conference title, Duquesne's 35-24 win over former NEC foe Albany paid dividends. The Dukes moved onto the national rankings radar, as they received a vote in the Division I-Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll. And they grabbed multiple NEC weekly honors. Redshirt freshman quarterback Dillon Buechel, a Montour grad, earned co-Rookie of the Week after he completed 21 of 28 attempts for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Buechel was the first freshman to start at quarterback in a Duquesne opener since 2005. Sophomore linebacker Sam Martello received co-Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Albany, which included a tackle for a safety and a sack that led to a fumble recovery for teammate Dorian Bell.
• Robert Morris freshman receiver Alex Caratelli's collegiate debut was a dandy, as the Blackhawk graduate caught a 20-yard touchdown for his only reception during a 38-6 loss to No. 19 Eastern Kentucky. Caratelli will look to build a nice career with the Colonials after finishing at Blackhawk with Beaver County's single-season record for receptions (70).
• Eighth-year Waynesburg coach Rick Shepas needs four more victories to move into second place on the team's all-time wins list. Shepas has 49. No. 50 might come Saturday against Muskingum, which squandered a fourth-quarter lead and lost 34-23 to the Yellow Jackets last season.